Dr.Ambient's and AEX - the Algorithmic MIDI Arpeggiator for Atari

Excerpt from Jos van de Gruiter's Interview with Dr.Ambient for MyAtari Magazine, 2003


Guido Goebertus, alias Dr Ambient, is the creator of AEX, one of the best-looking, wayward arpeggiators for Atari 16/32 computers. On a hot day in August 2003, journalist, Jos van de Gruiter, travels to the doctor's 3rd floor apartment in Amsterdam.

“I'm a born Amsterdammer“, Guido seems to emphasize while explaining his family's history after letting the reporter in. Apparently, Guido's ancestors were protestant refugees from France and, as time passed by, their French name "Coubert" changed to "Goebertus".

Jos: Talking about names, why did you call yourself Dr.Ambient? It reminds me of the tag names graffiti artists used here in the eighties.

Guido: No, it has nothing to do with that. I can't remember why I've chosen this name, maybe because Tim Conrardy called me the doctor. I'm not sure though... I just thought I needed a pseudonym. Guido Goebertus doesn't sound internationally appealing.

Jos: Speaking of Tim, was he one of the big motivators for AEX?

Guido: Yes, when I started developing AEX (September 2001) it was a very simple program. A lot of adjustments were made on Tim's advice. Writing an application takes the same motivation as creating a piece of music. I've studied electronics and have built hardware synthesizers, compressors and filters - but writing software is more fun and it keeps your hands clean!

Jos: Why did you develop this application when there are so many other great programs around?

Guido: Because I find it easier to write something myself than to learn how a new program works

Guido’s pride of being an inhabitant of Amsterdam evens shows itself in the name of his program. AEX stands for the Amsterdam Exchange (the Dutch stock market).

Jos: So what does the Amsterdam Exchange have to do with music?

Guido: Because the algorithms in AEX are a reproduction of one day at the Amsterdam  Exchange.  Through Tim, I tried many MIDI algorithm programs and I wanted mine to be different. Above all, when creating music I'm too lazy to fill in all these notes myself. The application has to do it for me. So I was looking for a "human fractal" and one day when I was reading the newspaper I noticed the diagrams of the AEX. I got the idea to enter the exact co-ordinates of these diagrams into the source code. There are some limitations however because the notes will always fit within a given chord but the base of the algorithms underneath my program is an impression of one day at the stock exchange.

When you open the application you can see the AEX diagrams. Working with the sequencer makes them change. Composing with AEX is a bit random. Let the program run and start changing parameters: choose different chords, transpose, reverse... The program also records everything you do within a maximum of 100 patterns.

Jos: Too bad the application can't save the patterns as a MIDI file, Guido.

Guido: In the next version there will be MIDI export. It should be there already, but some serious bugs caused some delay. When recording, the program stores the MIDI output in a buffer. Trying to save this data as a MIDI file, showed me there were a lot of note on messages with velocity 0 that shouldn't be there. I've never noticed because I didn't hear them. I had to reprogram lines everywhere in the source code. It was time-consuming work but now it's been solved. The next update will be the last. After that I'll consider AEX to be complete.

Jos: Why doesn't AEX work under GEM or in a multi-tasking environment like MiNT or MagiC? It would also be nice to have it running as a desk accessory and use it as a plug-in within Cubase.

Guido: There's no chance AEX will ever run as a GEM application or as an ACC. I've received much praise for the graphics and they wouldn't look so good under GEM. It would make the program unstable. Even moving the mouse around caused MIDI delay running in GEM.

Jos: Is that why AEX is a keyboard-driven application only?

Guido: Yes, the program became more stable without a mouse, but beside that, I really like the keyboard-driven approach. The first computer I used - a Commodore 64 - didn't have a mouse. In 1994 I bought a second hand STE running Cubase. It was my first Atari and a bargain. However, it took me days before I understood how it worked. It seemed a sensation when I discovered the double click. I think you should be able to work with every program without using a mouse. The keyboard however should be changed into a touch screen, showing only the knobs you need for each program separately. We should abandon the idea of a typewriter. Especially for AEX and my next creation ESEQ, I want to make this keyboard myself. Because of my electronic background that would be no problem. Of course both programs will still work with a normal keyboard.

The keyboard is not the only subject Guido has some strong opinions about: he thinks all actions should be possible in one window.

Guido: "That's what I don't like about Cubase. Too many windows I must open and too many mouse clicks before I can start editing. In my programs all editing and playing is done in one window".

A direct link exists between these views, his earlier experiences with computers and Guido's history as a musician. Dr. Ambient started his musical career as a guitarist in a seventies symphonic rock band.

Guido: "We were influenced by Genesis and called ourselves Saga...We needed a keyboard player, so I switched instruments. We had a Mellotron, an ARP AXXE and a simple organ. As a keyboard player I never became a virtuoso, so with AEX it's very convenient when I don't have to put in the notes myself. Performing live is also very direct because everything can be done on one screen without many actions".

In the early eighties Guido joined a new wave band called GT Modell and built his own studio.

Guido: “Red Bullet signed our band. [Record label of the famous Dutch DJ Willem van Kooten, responsible for the international successes of Golden Earring and Shocking Blue’s Venus - Ed.] We made a mini album and released a single”. Sadly, the record flopped and GT Modell were dropped.

After this, when MIDI became popular, it was exactly what I was waiting for. It must have been 1985 when I bought a Commodore 64, a color monitor and a Casio CZ-101 keyboard. I even wrote a sequencer program for it myself, as I didn't know if there were other MIDI programs around. Though I think Steinberg must have been active already because I remember using one of their MIDI interfaces.

With his new software creation, Guido went to all the music shops in Amsterdam to give demos hoping they'd be interested in marketing it.

Guido: “Nobody seemed to care. They couldn't understand why somebody would need something like that. They didn't see the possibilities”.

Aticle Update:  Unofrtunatly, shortly after this interview, the final version of AEX and ESEQ were never released.  Guido no longer develops for Atari.  That is, unless the Atari Network Community can convince him otherwise...